What have I been doing the last two weeks!

These are pictures of the Art Competition from three local orphanages.

Here I am with Donna,one of the Directors of Saramoldiva Orphanage, Beth and Olya

June 1st in Kazakhstan is Children’s Day. Kazakhs celebrate Women’s Day, Men’s Day and Children’s Day instead of Mother’s and Father’s Day. Beth, Moldir and I went to the celebrations at Ulan Orphanage. The children and staff put on a beautiful performance for us and other groups interested in the children. A group of young women studying fashion design in a local university designed outfits that some of the orphans modeled on stage. A group of men gave the orphanage a TV and many well-wishes were given to the children.

Many children displayed beauty and talent but my heart was sad because most of the children in Ulan orphanage were unable to attend. Only a few who were not performing were able to come because children in the orphanage share school uniforms. School is only half a day. Those who go in the morning wear a school outfit. When they return at lunch time, the uniform is given to another child who then wears it to afternoon classes. So, for any official event, there isn’t a “nice outfit” for each child to wear and sadly, therefore, not all can attend.

Appearance is very important in Kazakhstan. Image matters whether it’s the shoes you choose to wear or the color you choose to dye your hair. I stopped coloring my hair because I didn’t think I could get boxed hair color here. Well, I can get any color I’d want, even some natural looking ones. However, I think I’ll leave it “white” for a couple reasons. First, I’ve gotten use to it and it is easier to manage leaving it my natural color. Secondly, I’d like my actions to speak about where I find my value and worth – and it is not in hair color or shoes. I do not want to offend anyone with what I wear, but neither do I want to add to the perception that looks are what is most important. The focus on appearance is seen not only in clothes, but on buildings. Any new building is constructed with great-looking facade. However, the quality of construction underneath is not immediately seen but within a year, usually, the building looks like it has been around for generations. The focus here on the appearance of things leads to a hopelessness. The truth is that finding value in oneself is difficult with a facade. Kazakhstan, unfortunately, has a very high suicide rate. Hopelessness penetrates all areas of society, but is found especially among the children in these orphanages and it breaks my heart.

On Saturday, June 6, Beth, Ken, Jason, Kiikzhan and I took Ken and Jason’s Thusday afternoon English Club to the river for a picnic. Those attending the club are either students from various universities or those who have just graduated but desire to improve their English. Our picnic was a celebration for their work through the year. English Club will resume in the fall. It was a little chilly for swimming in the river, but everyone had fun, nonetheless. We played frizbee (something they don’t have here), card games and just enjoyed nature. We spread a blanket and had cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, chicken, kibassa and cheese to go on our bread for sandwiches and sodas or water to drink.

On Sunday, June 7, Beth, Ken, Jason and I drove to a village about an hour and a half from Taraz. I loved being in the village. The people are so incredibly friendly and hospitable. I love the picture below of the grandfather of a woman who lives in the village. She is a friend of Beth’s. He is in his mid-70’s, which is old by Kazakhstan standards. I was honored to be in their home, if even for a short time. I look forward to going back to give them copies of pictures I took while I was with them.

Beth, Ken, and Jason’s friends took us to a picnic spot in the mountains. It was absolutely beautiful. We drove up the mountain and crossed a small stream in our vehicles to a spot where we left the car and then hiked a little way farther up the mountain before setting up “camp.” After a relaxing lunch, we explored the surrounding countryside.

Kazakhstan’s landscape is beautiful. This spring has been unusually wet so the fields are much greener than they typically are the beginning of June. But even when there is the the harshness of a dry, hot summer, the landscape has a beauty all its own. I love being out in nature and enjoying creation.

Last week I returned to the bazaar with pictures I had taken on previous trips. I had so much fun distributing the pictures. The two young university students (who speak English) who were with me enjoyed the excitement as much as I did. Everyone seemed so please to receive their photos and each responded so positively. Of course, others also wanted their pictures taken, so now I need to go back and deliver more pictures!

At times I have gone to the bazaar without taking my camera and I have regretted it because there is always some great sight I want to capture. I wish each of you could come visit so I could show you around the wonderful town of Taraz.

Last Friday, June 12, we had a farewell party for Jason. Jason graduated last May from a university in Virginia and came for a year-long internship program with Interlink Resources. Jason is an amazing young man with such a gift for computers, programs, policy and procedures. He has been a great asset to Interlink Resources here in Kazakhstan. Jason will be going back to Virginia for a couple of weeks before heading to Indiana to help in our State-side office for several months. Jason will be greatly missed here. Everyone is very grateful and thankful that Jason will continue working with Interlink, providing knowledge in areas of need. Thank you, Jason.

We all had a great time enjoying wings prepared by Beth. They were better than any wings I’ve ever had in the States. We also had salads, pound cake prepared by Ken, apple cobbler and carrot cake also prepared by Beth, and other tasty foods. The evening continued with games.

On Sunday we had another dinner. This time in honor of Jason at Marina’s family’s home. Another great meal, games and a time to enjoy each others’ company before Jason boarded the train on the first leg of his journey home. Assel from the office rode with Jason on the over night train to Almaty. Jason was scheduled to fly out of Almaty Tuesday morning but was delayed due to some paper work mix-up. Patience is a great virtue to have here in Kazakhstan. If you don’t have it when you arrive, you most definitely will by the time you leave. Nothing runs according to plan and the saying “You aren’t in Kansas any more, Dorothy” is a key phrases we use around here. Jason is spending a week in Almaty before heading home. Assel returned with the American delegation on Tuesday, June 17.

I moved June 11 to a new host family. Such a change is often necessary. I was sad to leave Sholpan’s for many reasons, but as she has often been away and has had to leave again to go to Almaty, it is nice to be in a home where the family stays at home.

My new bedroom.

My new host family lives in a flat on the fourth floor of an apartment building. It is small but quite nice. Dana and I met several weeks ago when I visited the 10 Micro Region Boarding School for disabled children. We hit it off right away and she invited me to come live with her and her husband. They both speak Kazakh and help me each evening with my Kazakh. Dana plans on my knowing Kazakh by Christmas. I’m optimistically hopeful.

There is a dirt courtyard between the apartment buidings where I now live and dozens of children play there each afternoon. Dana and I went out one evening and I gave out match box cars and jump ropes. It seemed like a good public relations move on my part, a way to introduce myself to the local children. It was a hit and now when I come home I have dozens of children running to greet me. Their greeting me is another way to learn Kazakh! Actually, I’m learning both Russian and Kazakh from them, but that’s okay. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep the languages separated. Many Kazakhs mix the two languages in one sentence, so I figure they will show me grace as I muddle through.

Well, friends and family, I know this is a long post and I’ve only covered a few of the highlights of the past two weeks. I’ve settled into my new home and have learned to negotiate traveling to and from my new home. I’m trying to settle into a routine of some sorts, but am not yet quite there.

Marc turned 21 on June 20. I can’t believe my baby is 21 years old already! My heart is sad because I missed his celebration, yet I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I am where I belong and the call on my life is to be here in Kazakhstan. I truly feel I’m home. Each new word I learn brings me closer to being able to speak with the people on a heart level. I look forward to the day when I can. Until then I’m waiting patiently and enjoying the many blessings given to me each day.

Thank you, each one of you, for your kind words of encouragement. Each email and each note I receive in the mail causes my heart to leap with joy. I’m like a young child at camp when I receive mail from the States. The staff here just laughs because I get so excited.

Thank you, each one, for joining me in this next chapter of my life.


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